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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Heavy-hitting singers like Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry may dominate the airwaves. But an unlikely competitor has emerged from New Zealand, of all places.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUZZCUT SEASON")

ELLA 'LORDE' YELICH-O'CONNOR: (Singing) I remember when your head caught flame. It kissed your scalp and caressed your brain.

CORNISH: Ella Yelich-O'Connor goes by the moniker Lorde. And just 16 years old, she's gone from churning out tunes in her bedroom in Auckland to a splashy U.S. debut. Her new album is called "Pure Heroine," and we asked her about the breakthrough song that got everyone's attention: "Royals."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROYALS")

LORDE: But every song's like gold teeth, Grey Goose, tripping in the bathroom, bloodstains, ball gowns, trashing the hotel room. We don't care. We're driving Cadillacs in our dreams. But everybody's like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece, jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash. We don't care. We aren't caught up in your love affair.

CORNISH: Ella, welcome to the program.

LORDE: Hi. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So talk about the imagery in that first verse, because there's a lot going on there.

LORDE: (Laughing) Basically, I was just sort of reeling off some of the things which commonly mentioned in hip-hop and the Top 40. I did get a little ridiculous on it but, you know, the sentiment's there.

CORNISH: And how did you come up with the idea for the song? Is this your music, hip-hop and these other kind of genres where you see this imagery?

LORDE: Well, yeah. I mean, I've always loved hip-hop. But as a fan of hip-hop, I always had to kind of suspend disbelief because obviously, like, I don't have a Bentley, you know, so...

(LAUGHTER)

LORDE: Like there's a distance between that and the life I have with my friends, going to parties and, you know, getting public transport and doing the things that every other teenager does really.

CORNISH: So lyrics like we count our dollars on the train to the party, right? It's not like whipping the dollars out on the dance floor.

(LAUGHTER)

LORDE: Yeah. I make a lot of jokes about making it rain. I have yet to make it rain.

(LAUGHTER)

LORDE: But I'm looking forward to that moment.

CORNISH: For people who don't know, making it rain is when you like spray the dollars, usually in a strip club, I think.

LORDE: But then do you go and pick them all up afterward? Is that embarrassing?

CORNISH: That's a very good question.

(LAUGHTER)

LORDE: I would like, you know, it sort of ruins the bombast of the gesture.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROYALS")

LORDE: (Singing) And we'll never be royals. It don't run in our blood. That kind of luxe just ain't for us. We crave a different kind of buzz. Let me be your ruler. You can call me queen bee. And baby, I'll rule. I'll rule. I'll rule. Let me live that fantasy.

CORNISH: Now, your mom is a prize-winning poet, Sonya Yelich. And what did you learn about songwriting from her?

LORDE: Yeah, we didn't really talk too much about songwriting, but I think the way my mum indirectly influenced me with that stuff is she always made sure that we were reading in my house and that there were books around. And we would discuss whatever it was that I was reading. So I think my kind of interest in how you can combine words to make something magic, I think that sort of came from her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROYALS")

LORDE: (Singing) I've never seen a diamond in the flesh. I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies. And I'm not proud of my address in a torn-up town, no post code envy.

CORNISH: In the end, is your life nudging closer to "Royals"? I mean, do you find that...

LORDE: The irony is not lost on me, believe me. I don't know. I mean, like, I travel with my mum and, you know, I've got no alcohol in my rider and they clean out my mini bar before I even get to my hotel and...

(LAUGHTER)

LORDE: I may be closer to that life but I, you know, I'm conscious of the fact that I have a job to do and I'm working. And it's important to be professional about it as opposed to like, I don't know, Cristal in the van over here or whatever.

CORNISH: Well, Ella Yelich-O'Connor, thank you so much for speaking with us.

LORDE: Thank you for speaking to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROYALS")

LORDE: (Singing) You call me queen bee.

CORNISH: Ella Yelich-O'Connor, aka Lorde. Her debut album "Pure Heroine" is out now. You can see Lorde performing "Royals" at nprmusic.org.

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